Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paula Deen

     Somewhere in hell, Lenny Bruce is laughing at us, bitterly.

     As a society, we keep loading up that Chekov gun and hanging it back above the fireplace with a great big sign on it, "Hands Off! Danger!" and it works just as well as those "NO SPITTING" signs that make a lot of folks want to spit the second they see 'em.

     Bruce thought we -- that's all of us more-or-less civilized humans, with our varying accents, skin colors and damfool political notions -- ought to get together and drain the power from the word, but it's probably too late.  Attempts to reclaim it as an in-group word have, rap artists notwithstanding, just point a bigger spotlight at it.  Nope, for a non-African American public figure (at least and ya shouldn't get too damn' comfy with it no matter where your ancestors were hauled off from), having ever provably said "the n-word" is just the same as being caught in bed with an underaged partner,* period.

     There are plenty of disparaging-outgroup words but only one with so much power.  It didn't get there overnight and it's not going to turn back into just another dreadfully rude term polite grown-ups don't say in a hurry, either.

     At this point, it doesn't even make any difference what you think about it; there it is and we're stuck.  Like the punchline to the joke where the guy goes to his doctor and says, "It hurts when I do this," my advice is the same: then stop doing that.
* The rule used to be "A dead girl or a live boy," but we hold pols to a sterner standard these days...though, notably, still rather more lax than the standard one applies to friends, neighbors or the fellow who runs the corner service station.


Anonymous said...

If she had been Black and called some criminal a honky mo-fo cracker, it would have been laughed off and excused.
Jus' sayin'...


Sabra said...

And if blacks had a history of claiming whites were subhuman and trying to prevent them from doing a boatload of things, that would have some significance.

There is a reason that one word has so much power, and that is the history associated with it.

Roberta X said...


Can't make that history go away by ignoring it.

perlhaqr said...

I wonder if that'll stay true through my generation (I'm 36) becoming congressmen and senators and presidents and whatnot.

"And we have it on very good authority that you have, at times in the past, used the 'N-Word'."

"Um, duh? I was a teenager in the 90's. I've probably said the *mocking, stick-up-the-bum face* 'N-word' about a million times. Are you trying to tell me that you've never dialed up Fuck Tha Police on your iPod after getting a speeding ticket?"

Anonymous said...

At the same time, a wound won't heal if you keep picking at the scab.

I guess we need to decide if we want that history to be an example of what not to do, or to be a reason to continue feuding.

Stranger said...

The problem is that banning words is a two way street. In my lifetime the "N-word" has gone from a neutral description used by everyone from George, the Pullman porter, to Franklin, the President, to a head 'sploding affront to lily white talking heads.

It gets serious when you cannot honestly relate what a man born a slave told you about driving cattle to Sedalia, and the reactions of farmers faced with the double threat of Texas fever and a black cowboy, because it would offend some brainless twit.

It becomes absurd when a much loved American author, who stated in his autobiography that "there is no face so dear to me as a black face" is demonized because he used the N word to distinguish one of his characters from other Jim's in his works.


Roberta X said...

I don't think it should be banned -- but more people need to understand both the history (Twain's character was not casually named!) and the current more-than-fighting-word status before we can even begin to get out of the rut we're all in over it.

Trying to whistle our way past it doesn't work.

markm said...

Re the slimeball politician of long ago's boast that the only things that could bring him down were being caught in bed with "a dead girl or a live boy": it's not that the standard is stricter nowadays, it's that it's *different*, and it's been changing for at least 50 years. The Kennedys' political careers survived the next best thing to the "dead girl", at least twice (Marilyn Monroe and Mary Jo Kopechne). Barney Frank has had a whole series of "live boys".

But God forbid a politician use a rapper's favorite word for his low-life peers.